National Recovery Month – A Guide to Depression Recovery Through Self-Care, part 2

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

As a woman with bipolar disorder, I’m no stranger to depression. I’ve sunk to some pretty low points just because I have abnormal brain chemistry. Fortunately, due to a combination of medication, talk therapy, and coping strategies, I’ve been stable—and happy!—for the past seven years. So I am willing and able to give you some tips and tricks that may help you recover from the dark pit of depression.

Self-care, defined as actions you take to improve your physical and/or mental outlook, is crucial for recovery from depression. Medication can only help if you take it (which is part of self-care!), and talk therapy is useful, too, but without your meeting your physical and emotional needs on a basic level, there’s only so much the treatments can do.

Self-care is more than just bubble baths and painting your nails. Let me outline some emotional self-care practices below that you can do today to help you recover from depression.

Emotional Self-care

Emotional self-care involves increasing your ability to handle strong, uncomfortable emotions such as rage, nervousness, or despair. Emotional self-care practices involve your expression of your emotions on a regular basis.

One way to tell if you’re effectively practicing emotional self-care is if you feel recharged at the end of an activity rather than drained. Emotions, especially negative emotions, can be draining, but if you’ve properly processed them, you’ll be much better off.

Here’s a few ways to practice emotional self-care.

Say No

Setting boundaries is all about learning to protect your energy from others. If you are stretched too thin for others, you won’t have any time for yourself and your own self-care, which means you’ll be drained and possibly irritable.

I know that when I’m overstretched (which often happens before I realize it), I tend to snap at people. Instead of letting myself get to that point, I need to do is set boundaries and encourage other people to do the same.

One good way for you to cut down on your obligations is to say “no”. It’s a small but powerful word, and I know for a fact that it’s one of the hardest ones to say for most people.

But try it. Say “no” to at least one person asking you to take on more obligations. You need to draw shield around yourself and not take on anymore things, especially when trying to recover from depression.

I personally don’t like saying no and/or delegating tasks to others, but I’ve always found myself better off when I do. It’s been a long road for me to get to a place where I am confident enough to say no, but a journey begins with a single step.

You can take that first step today.

Call Others For Help When You Feel Overwhelmed

The corollary to saying no is calling for help when you feel overwhelmed. If you find that you really have stretched yourself too thin, you may have to call in people to help you.

Depression is overwhelming. There’s absolutely no shame in calling for help. Whether it’s visiting a therapist to process your day or asking friends to take care of your children so you can take a shower (physical self-care!), you can call someone.

When I’ve been depressed in the past, my greatest supporter has been my husband. He’s taken care of our children, listened patiently to me express my feelings (see the next section), and has given me great advice.

I couldn’t have recovered from my depression as quickly without his stalwart support. If you have a valued supporter, don’t take them for granted, but also don’t worry about calling them for help when you need them to step up.

Your friends want to help you. I know one of the biggest features of depression is the isolation. When we’re depressed, we withdraw from people and tear down our relationships, sometimes because we don’t think they’ll help, but also sometimes because we think we don’t deserve their help.

You deserve the love and help of your friends. Call one today.

And if you’re currently in crisis and believe you’re truly friendless, please, please Google “crisis center [my town],” so you can get the help you need. For a list of crisis lines in the U.S., click here. For a list of international crisis lines, click here.

Express Your Feelings

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain was a wise man. Bottling your feelings helps no one; if you can’t express your feelings properly, you cannot nurture your emotional health.

If you’re not honest with people when you don’t like something, you’re setting them up to fail. What? How does that make sense? It’s simple, really.

People aren’t mind readers. But how can they be good to you if you don’t tell them what your preferences are? If you don’t tell people if you’re angry or even annoyed, they can’t respond in a proper way and they’ll continue responding in the way they feel is right based on limited information, possibly angering you or annoying you further.

If you don’t tell people the truth about what you like or what your preferences are, and if you just go along with what they say or don’t say no to them about something that feels violating to you, you are setting them up to fail.

That doesn’t lead to a productive conversation or to someone knowing the real you. This is not your fault, but it doesn’t have to be this way. You can express your feelings.

One of the best ways to express your feelings to others is to use “I” statements. When you say, “you made me feel…” that shifts blame onto the other person and puts them on the defensive. Plus, framing the sentence that way doesn’t allow you to take responsibility for your own feelings. Try “I feel,” instead.

You can start expressing your feelings in small ways. Keep a personal journal examining your emotions. Write or draw something creative. And try to tell people upfront when you don’t like something, starting small, like when someone calls you by the wrong name.

Over many years of therapy, I’ve learned to express myself in a variety of different ways. I am a writer, so I frequently write fiction that explores my own emotions through the characters and their actions. I write the world I want to see.

I’ve also learned that speaking directly to someone about a problem is worlds better than going behind their back and venting to a friend. I first heard that concept from a lesson in church, but it was only after personal experience where a relationship blew up in my face because I didn’t express my feelings properly that I took action on the idea.

You can express your feelings today. And if you need help, there’s no shame in calling in the professionals. A therapist can help you identify and untangle your emotions and teach you ways to express them in healthy ways.

For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.

Conclusion

Like physical self-care, emotional self-care is an absolute necessity. Without the building blocks of caring for your own emotions, recovering from depression will be an uphill battle–even more than it already is.

You don’t have to be a professional at self-care to recover. You can start small. Say no and set boundaries, call in people to help if you’re overwhelmed, and learn to express your feelings. These are the steps you can take to nurture your emotional health.

I’ve learned how to say no, call for aid, and express my feelings not only through talk therapy, but also through trial and error. I’ve accidentally hurt people and flagellated myself with self-recrimination, stalling my progress upwards.

Don’t be like me: care for yourself. Practice emotional self-care today.

I wish you well.

See part 1, the guide to depression recovery through physical self-care, here.

Related Posts:

7 Frugal, Proven Ways to Destress While Stuck at Home Due to Coronavirus

7 Frugal, Proven Ways to Destress - CassandraStout.com

Stress. Everyone has it.

Stress is a normal physiological response to something that upsets your equilibrium, like a threat or a challenge. It’s your body’s ability to protect you.

Sometimes stress can be good for you (it’s called eustress), motivating you to meet deadlines at work and exercise (which is itself another form of good stress). Good stress is short-lived and infrequent, and leaves you better off than you were before you encountered the stressful time.

But stress can sometimes be bad for you, especially if you’re not managing it well. Bad stress lasts a long time, happens frequently, and leaves you worse off. This kind of stress collects and collects, piling on to your brain.

Since 1992, April has been Stress Awareness Month. Sponsored by The Health Resource Network (HRN), a non-profit health education organization, Stress Awareness Month encourages people to educate themselves about the dangers of bad stress, learn coping skills, and recognize prevalent stress myths.

During self-quarantining due to the coronavirus pandemic, everyone is feeling significant amounts of stress, mostly bad. We don’t know when the need to self-quarantine will end, and we don’t know if we will catch the coronavirus ourselves. Many of our friends and family may already be infected.

We’re also worried about our financial futures. We may have to work at home. Millions of Americans have been laid off. Our kids’ schools have closed, and no one knows when they will open–or even if they’ll open for the rest of the academic year.

All this uncertainty adds up to a stressful time for everyone.

Celebrate Stress Awareness Month with these 7 frugal, proven ways to destress while you’re stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

1. Breathe Deep

Taking breaths doesn’t sound like it could help as much as it does. Inhaling expands your chest and shoulders, releasing tension. Plus, fresh oxygen improves your brain’s ability to remember things, alleviates stress, and keeps cells healthy.

Try this exercise, given to me by my therapist over eight years ago:

    1. Close your eyes, if you feel safe enough to do so.
    2. Inhale deeply through your nose, preferably into your abdomen, while counting to 3.
    3. Hold for 3-5 seconds.
    4. Exhale, releasing the air from your mouth over a period of at least 3 seconds.

This rarely fails to relax me.

2. Exercise

Exercise can help you manage your stress in a low-cost, high-impact way. Studies show that exercise can improve your mood. A simple, 20-minute jog around your neighborhood, which releases feel-good chemicals like endorphins, can improve your mood for a whopping twelve hours.

You don’t have anything to lose by working out. Try to get some exercise today, preferably outdoors in the sunlight. Anything that gets your heart rate up—jogging, boxing, yoga—is an excellent way to manage your stress levels.

3. Eat a Small, Healthy Snack

When people are stressed, they sometimes turn to food for comfort. Like exercise, food is one easy way to force the brain to release feel-good chemicals. And nothing is more stressful to the brain than starving it.

But you don’t have to make stress eating a bad thing. Even eating a small, healthy snack is a scientifically-backed way to destress.

Try half an avocado, or a stick of string cheese, or a handful of almonds. You want a snack that is full of protein or heart-healthy fats.

The way you eat your snack is also important. Take your food somewhere distraction-free. Sit down with your feet shoulder-width apart. Breathe deeply (tip #1), and focus on your food. Feel the texture of your food on your tongue.

Try to divorce judgment from eating. This is a snack which is good for you and will help you destress.

4. Get Enough Quality Sleep

Sleep is crucial for you to function on even a basic level, but even more so if you have mental illness like bipolar disorder. Getting enough sleep may help prevent manic episodes and helps regulate depressive episodes.

If you don’t get enough sleep, your brain will hold onto your stress. Quality, restful sleep starts in the bedroom. Make sure you have a dark, quiet environment to catch some Zs.

For a post on how to handle insomnia and other sleep disturbances while you have bipolar disorder, click here.

5. Detox from Your Smartphone

A study done by British researchers showed a clear link between rising stress levels and compulsively checking emails and social media on a smartphone.

Unplug from your electronic devices, and marvel at how much your stress dissipates after only an hour.

6. Keep a Gratitude Journal

Appreciating what you have rather than focusing on what you don’t has been proven to reduce stress, and improve physical and mental well-being.

Writing an entry in a gratitude journal is a low-cost way to feel better about the world and your place in it.

7. Do a Full-Body Check In

If you’re feeling stressed, your body will show signs of the negative feelings. Your shoulders can be tense, your stomach may churn, and your lower back might be sore.

But how you feel physically can also add to stress. It’s a vicious cycle: you feel stressed, which affects your body, which in turn raises your stress level, and so on.

Nip the cycle in the bud. Check in with your body.

Sit or lie down somewhere peaceful. Starting with your toes, mentally examine each body part. Are you sore anywhere? Tense? Hungry? Thirsty? How’s your stomach feeling? How are your shoulders? Do you have enough oxygen in your system (tip #1)?

Examine your needs, and then go solve them. If you’re hungry, eat a small, healthy snack (tip #3). If you’re tired, take a nap (tip #4). Check in with your body, identify issues you might be facing, and practice self-care.

Final Thoughts

Destressing is a form of self-care. Taking the time to relax yourself will have untold benefits for your physical body and mental state. Destressing helps your mood, outlook, and ability to handle future stressful situations.

Celebrate Stress Awareness Month. Destress with one of these practical, scientifically-backed tips today.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related:

7 Frugal, Proven Ways to Destress - CassandraStout.com

What is Bipolar Depression?

My apologies for setting the blog aside for so long without an announcement–and what a post to leave it on! I’ve been grappling with a severe depressive episode which has

Photo by Manarianz5. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.
Photo by Manarianz5. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

escalated over the past year, leaving me not wanting to die, but just bereft of desire to participate in life.

Depression is often described as being miserable, down in the dumps, or–my favorite–trapped in a black, sucking hole of apathy. According to the Kübler-Ross model, also known as the five stages of grief, depression is one of the normal responses to a traumatic life event. Clinical or bipolar depression, however, rears its ugly head due to chemical imbalances in the brain, medication, or genes–meaning that it can strike at any time not connected to stress or winter blues. So what are depression’s signs and symptoms, and how are they treated?

Depression’s signs differ from person to person, but largely include a combination of these factors:

  • Persistent feelings of hopelessness
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory loss
  • Lack of energy
  • Isolation
  • Inability to sleep
  • Missed showers, meals
  • Suicidal tendencies

Over the past year I’ve isolated myself and my five-year-old, confining us both to the house due to both anxiety and depression. I’ve only just begun to emerge from the fugue, armed with new medications and new coping strategies, as well as an attempt to shuck off old habits.

Due to the advice of a dear friend, I found that doing things makes me want to do more things. It’s counter-intuitive, but making sure that I do the dishes and pick up the living room every day has worked as the best anti-depressant I’ve ever had. Staying in bed until I have to pick up my kid from kindergarten is a sure-fire way of destroying the rest of the day. Getting up and getting dressed is that first, difficult step, but I am better off when it’s done.

That said, I have to keep moving. How do you stay out of the sucking hole?